HE SLOWLY SHUFFLED HIS way into the doctor’s office. He was a tall, fair-skinned, aged gentleman. Judging by his appearance, I figured he was in his late 70’s, perhaps early 80’s.
He was sporting a crisp, white, short-sleeved shirt, grey ankle-length slacks, and a navy blue ball cap with the words “I ❤ Jesus.” He held a long, slender walking cane in his left hand and big wad of religious tracks in his left hand.
I watched as he systematically worked his way around the room. As it turned out, he was handing out leaflets pertaining to salvation. I’d seen this very tract many times around town. It proclaimed, “Believe on the Lord and be saved.” By my preacher’s count, he’d given out at least fourteen of the brochures to various patients in the waiting room.
Eventually he settled down just two seats away from me. I knew exactly what was coming. I was pouring over a magazine article when he leaned over and offered me a tract too. “Would you like to read this?” he asked. I declined the offer. “No thank you, sir,” I said kindly. For one fleeting moment he looked at me as if I’d lost my mind. “You don’t want one?!” he huffed. “Are you saved?!”
Now I have to admit this was new territory for me. I was just sitting there waiting for my annual checkup when this gentleman—a total stranger—asked me in front of God and everybody—about my pardon from sin.
No, I wasn’t offended, just taken back by his raw courage—especially in front of all the other waiting-room folk in today’s prickly, politically sensitive, don’t-talk-about-religion-in-public society. I smiled and offered gently, “As a matter of fact, I am saved—and I attend the local church of Christ just down the road.”
He leaned back in his seat, nodded in what appeared to be reluctant approval and then thundered, “Well, Jesus died on the cross for everybody!” I nodded in agreement and said, “Yes, He did.”
But my religious cohort wasn’t quite done. Our little impromptu Bible study in the clinic took on an even deeper dimension. He then announced to me and the rest of the waiting room, “Yes, Jesus died for everybody—including the thief on the cross.” “In fact,” he said, the thief just looked over at Jesus and said, ‘Lord save me,’ and He did just that right then and there! More than that, He saves us all the exact same way today!”
My fellow student/patients sat there quietly, a few shaking their heads in obvious approval, while others just stared down at the floor. We had all come anticipating a checkup for a $25 co-pay, but as it turned out, we were also offered a clamorous denominational Bible study for free.
I paused for a just a moment and then shared one brief observation with my zealous neighbor. “I’m glad you mentioned the thief,” I said. You may remember that Hebrews 9 says, ‘For a testament is in force after men are dead, since it has no power at all while the testator lives.” I continued, “The thief, unlike us, lived and died while an entirely different testament or covenant was in force, and He therefore isn’t an example for our salvation today.” I reached on my hip for my phone to show him the passage.
Sadly, our short debate was now over, not because I had spoken up, but because I offered a Scripture that countered his sectarian views. He bowed up like a scared cat in a corner and declared emphatically, “JESUS SAVES EVERYBODY IN THE EXACT SAME WAY!” No sooner had the words left his lips than the nurse called his name and he exited the room for his appointment.
I’ve mulled that whole situation over in my head several times. “Should I have spoken up? Was it wise to mention Hebrews 9?” Peter said, “Be ready to give an answer…” (1 Pet. 3:15), and I genuinely tried to do that in a Christian spirit. The man initiated the contact and I simply responded in kind with what little opportunity I was afforded at the time.
But the whole occasion got me to thinking on at least three levels. For instance:
1. Wouldn’t it be great if all members of the Lord’s church had the kind of fearlessness this elderly man exhibited at the doctor’s office (cf. Acts 4:13, 29, 31; Rom. 1:16; 2 Cor. 3:12; 7:4; Phil. 1:20)? Granted, however sincere he might have been, he was spreading a false, perverted gospel—in essence, easy-believism, but I couldn’t help but admire his boldness, his fervor, and his tenacity. He knew what he knew and he was compelled to share it (Jer. 20:9) with literally everybody around him. He wasn’t ashamed nor was he afraid.
2. The Oxford congregation receives all kinds of House-to-House literature. There are tracts and H2H periodicals scattered around our building. Wouldn’t it be a good idea to grab a handful to keep in our cars? Then when we’re waiting for a doctor’s appointment, could can leave a few copies around for others to read and consume. Beloved, not all evangelism has to be confrontational. Sometimes it can as quiet and as innocuous as planting a couple of paper seeds in a doctor’s office reading stand.
3. It is one thing to say that Jesus saves, but it’s quite another thing to say that He saves everybody the exact same way. Yes, we would agree that the principles that relate to salvation (grace and obedient faith—Eph. 2:8) are the same under the Patriarchal, Mosaic, and New Testaments, but obviously the expression of faith under each are vastly different.
Noah was saved by God’s grace (Gen. 6:8) through obedient faith (Heb. 11:7) AS ARE WE TODAY (1 Pet. 3:20-21), but we aren’t obligated to build an ark. The children of Israel were saved by God’s grace (Exo. 14:13-31) through the obedience of faith (Exo. 14:22; 1 Cor. 10:1-2; Heb. 11:29), AS ARE WE TODAY, but we aren’t duty-bound to cross the Red Sea. Naaman was saved by God’s grace (2 Kgs. 5:10, 14b) through the obedience of faith (2 Kgs. 5:14a) AS ARE WE TODAY, but we aren’t commanded to dip seven times in the Jordan. The blind man was saved by God’s grace (Jn. 9:7) through the obedience of faith AS ARE WE TODAY, but we aren’t required to wash in Siloam. Yes, the thief was saved by grace through faith—just as we are, but he was forgiven under the terms of an earlier covenant (Lev. 26:40-42; cf. 1 Kgs. 8, Dan. 9, Neh. 1, Psm. 51, 32) which do not apply to us today.
Allow me to illustrate. Suppose I were to send the following email to the IRS: “To Whom It May Concern, I do not intend to pay income taxes. Presidents Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln lived and died without paying income taxes, so why should I therefore be expected to pay today? Signed Mike Benson.” QUESTION: What do you suppose would happen to me? It’s safe to say that if I stuck to my guns, eventually I would be put in prison for tax evasion because I currently live under the law (think testament or covenant) that requires U.S. citizens to pay income taxes. On the other hand, Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln died BEFORE the income tax law went into effect, and were therefore never under its jurisdiction.
In a similar way, the penitent thief lived and died BEFORE the law of Christ went into effect. He was therefore never subject to its terms as we are today (cf. Heb. 9:27). The Testator—Jesus—hadn’t died yet. The Mosaic covenant was still in effect. We, unlike the thief, live under the terms of the new and better covenant (Heb. 9:7-13) which requires obedient faith (Mk. 16:15-16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; Rom. 6:3-4) expressed in baptism for the remission of sins (1 Cor. 15:1-4; Rom. 6:17-18).
“God loves you and I love you and that’s the way it’s gonna be!”—Mike